Nancy Behrman is one of the founding pioneers in the world of lifestyle brand publicity. Nancy began Behrman Communications in 1985 at just 24-years-old after an eye opening experience at the Sarajevo Olympics, hobnobbing with journalists and athletes from around the world. Driven by a voracious passion for public relations and the will to not only succeed but to innovate, Nancy opened up shop out of her studio apartment and made industry history.
Before Behrman Communications, a few, large public relations firms and an uninventive corporate mindset dominated the business. With one supercool brand, Kiehl’s, and no red tape, Nancy built her agency and an impressive roster of cult brands by discarding the outdated PR tactics of yesteryear and embracing the unconventional. Since 1985, Behrman Communications has become synonymous with creative and strategic thinkers, with beauty brands that are now titans of success, and with the whackiest client experiences in the business. Nancy is also, not to mention, the mother of two, beautiful daughters and a beloved friend to some of the biggest beauty names in the business.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I simply felt that the level of innovation in the PR industry was lacking and that clients could be better served by a more creative approach.
How do you make money?
Behrman Communications provides a wide variety of services, including brand elevation, strategic planning, social media marketing and public relations, all of which carry varying degrees of cost.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were quite fortunate that our immense success with Kiehl’s Since 1851 provided an accelerated path to profitability. I turned a profit in under a year of first opening my doors, from my studio apartment, I should add.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Given the lack of creativity I saw in the industry, I knew that there would be tremendous demand for a new and more effective approach to PR. That said, of course there were ups and downs, like any small business experiences within the first five years. I handled it with not a lot of sleep but an unrelenting drive and passion for what I was doing. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.
How did you get your first customer?
It was definitely not traditional. I had the good fortunate of meeting my first client through my old job. I had been sent to do PR for the owner of Kiehl’s daughter, Jami Morse, at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, where she was teaching aerobics to the Austrian Men’s Ski Team at the time. We hit it off immediately and I garnered some great press for Jami. Two very long years later, I got a call from Jami because she had moved to New York City and was gearing up to take over Kiehl’s Since 1851. She put me in business.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Honestly, word-of-mouth. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many stellar brands who have grown to be titans of industry, who continuously refer the agency. Maintaining strong relationships with clients past and present is the best way to get your name out there and meet the right people.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
We meet very smart, hard-working entrepreneurs with great ideas on a weekly basis, but quite often they are not ready for PR and we recommend that they meet other firms that will definitely take their business, although we hope that they ultimately end up here. It’s always sad to see them go, but we’re confident that when they’re ready, we will take the lead.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
A wonderful staff, first and foremost. There is no way I could do it without the team I currently have. Egos are left at the door, and collaborative team work is our defining business model.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Hard to choose just one. 2016 is a great time for the agency, and a source of continuous pride. The clients and the teams are strong, and excuse my language, but we get shit done.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Not having to be in at 9 AM anymore because I have such a hardworking, trustworthy team delights me on a daily basis. As for the future, I’m hoping to groom those very close to me to take a bigger and bigger role at the agency and lead with their fresh, creative vision.
What business books have inspired you?
This isn’t technically a business book, but reading the New York Times every morning and staying on top of international news and headlines is crucial to being an integral part of any kind of agency. Staying informed is more important than reading what any entrepreneur will tell you.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
Firing the IT company that was reading my emails. Always stay on top of every aspect of your business.
Why have you been able to enjoy such sustained success in the PR industry?
Thick skin, mostly. With all that I have been through, and as any woman business owner in this city knows, you have to be tough as nails. My main advice is to never lose focus, nor rely on any one person to do it for you. It’s either got to be you, or a team that you trust.